by Cole Pepper
August 12, 2013
While very few starting spots are still truly up for grabs, the Jaguars do have a number of position battles still brewing after the first preseason game. Here’s a breakdown:
Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert had a chance to separate himself from Chad Henne Friday night, but after some strong practices early in the week, Gabbert was pedestrian at best against the Dolphins. Henne wasn’t much better (although his numbers were, remember he was playing behind a starting line and against second team defensive players most of the time). Something remarkable would have to happen in the next couple of games for Henne to win the job and Gus Bradley hasn’t announced who will start Saturday against the Jets.
Backup running back: With Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Forsett held out of the opener, Jordan Todman took advantage. Clearly, Denard Robinson will be utilized in the running game, but Todman has shown speed and acceleration that are hard to ignore. Unless there are blocking assignment errors or fumble problems from Todman in the preseason games to come, he looks like a guy who will make the team and be expected to contribute on special teams.
Fullback: Will Ta’ufo’ou has been listed as the starter, but Lonnie Pryor offers much more of a diverse skill set. That’s exactly what offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is looking for. Pryor has better hands in the passing game and is more explosive as a runner.
Wide receiver depth: Ace Sanders is going to be on the roster, the question is where does he fit as a wide receiver. In an ideal world, when the Jaguars go three wide, Justin Blackmon (once back from suspension) would move to the slot and Sanders could play outside. Just imagine the matchup problems the Jaguars could present to an opposing defense with Cecil Shorts, Blackmon, Sanders, Robinson and Marcedes Lewis in a four wide/one tight end set. Mike Brown (picture above) has made major strides since last year, but didn’t make the kind of impact in the game against Miami that he’s made during training camp. Someone from the group of Mohamed Massaquoi, Jordan Shipley and Toney Clemons needs to step up. Shipley is the most utilitarian of the trio and can play in the slot, which could help him when the final cuts come.
Backup tight end: Behind Marcedes Lewis, Brett Bracket and Allen Reisner have seen more of the work. Reisner has terrific hands and seems to have the leg up. This is a position that may have only two players on the 53 man roster, especially if they have to keep Todman as a fourth running back. This is the quandary of adding an Offensive Weapon (Denard Robinson) to the mix.
Offensive line depth: In short, there isn’t much. Beyond the starters (Eugene Monroe, Will Rackley, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri and Luke Joeckel) only center/guard Mike Brewster figures to be a lock to make the team. Tackle Cam Bradfield didn’t play well at right tackle last year, and since Joeckel can play right or left, the Jaguars need someone who can play right tackle on the bench. The Jaguars figure to keep nine offensive linemen with one backup having the ability to play center (Brewster), one who can play right tackle and then the other can be the best remaining offensive lineman, regardless of position.
Defensive line depth: This may be the Jaguars deepest position. After Tyson Alualu, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller and Jason Babin, the Jaguars figure to work in at least three big bodies to the rotation. Behind them, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, D’Anthony Smith and massive rookie T.J. Barnes are battling for two or three roster spots.They would also like to have at least one if not two LEO’s to join Jason Babin as edge pass rushers. Andre Branch still isn’t quite there, but he has the edge on Ryan Davis, who flashed late in the preseason opener. It’s also going to be interesting where veteran Jeremy Mincey fits in. He doesn’t seem to match the kind of defensive end or LEO that the Jaguars new scheme calls for. He might be on the bubble.
Linebacker depth:This week may tell us a lot about what the new coaching staff thinks of their linebacker depth. Russell Allen sprained an ankle Friday and if he can’t go, Brandon Marshall may get the start. Julian Stanford and LaRoy Reynolds will get a chance to play quite a bit in the preseason.
Nickleback and dimeback: Mike Harris has received praise and looks like the guy who will man the nickle, but the dime position (6th defensive back) is more of a horse race. Kevin Rutland and veteran Marcus Trufant would figure to be the top contenders, but some of the young defensive backs like Demetrius McCray, Jeremy Harris (both 7th round picks) and Marcus Burley may also be able to work their way onto the final 53.
Safety depth: This gets interesting this week as rookie second round pick Johnathan Cyprien is expected back at practice. He hasn’t worked in training camp due to a hamstring pull sustained before he reported to camp. Cyprien and Dwight Lowery figure to start. Chris Prosinski has shown signs of improvement in camp, but did not play well against Miami in the preseason opener. Sixth round pick Josh Evans flashed in the 4th quarter of the preseason opener and the coaches hope he continues to progress.
Kickoff returner: You can forget the pencil and use the ink pen. Ace Sanders will return punts. But who will return kicks? Denard Robinson is certainly a candidate, but Jordan Todman may also be used here. Kickoff returns have become less important since the NFL moved the kickoff spot up to the 35 yard line.